How audits instill confidence

Falcon Electronics’ quality manager, Susan Bocci

Falcon Electronics’ quality manager, Susan Bocci, explains how regular audits underpin purchasing confidence in the high reliability component distribution channels.

AMS (aerospace, military and space) companies will perform annual audits, assessments and/or spot checks throughout the year. These audits are not contract based and are usually performed by a quality engineer or manager to confirm the distributor/authorised supplier is compliant to different aspects of the AS9100 specification—even though the distributor/authorised supplier is certified as such. Mostly auditing documentation records, flow downs, counterfeit avoidance procedures, ESD precautions and cybersecurity.

These audits are not typically onsite (especially due to Covid-19) but are handled with questionnaires. Some AMS quality managers may request a conference call. Based on the audit type, corrective actions are created if a non-conformance is found. Other types of audits/assessments are simple, with a series of questions and a request for documentation via email. These audits are not punitive but ensure the distributor/authorised supplier is meeting its customer’s standards.

Do the distributor/authorised supplier’s processes reflect documented procedures? Documented procedures must have a clear description of quality processes and is the best way to provide objective evidence during an audit. Along with quality records of the ordering and shipping process.

How does a distributor/authorised supplier incorporate its customer’s specific requirements to meet their quality specifications? Some AMS companies request specific language in the distributor/authorised supplier’s procedures to ensure their quality specifications that are flowed down on their purchase orders are met. Specific language can be added to the procedure or simply create a customer specific procedure/s to this requirement. These procedures should be kept up to date and reviewed in a one-to-three-year cycle.

An important type of audit—counterfeit detection and avoidance—may occur several times a year, with the possibility of the same type of audit by different buyers within the same AMS company. A detailed procedure is required, which describes quarantining counterfeit and suspect counterfeit parts and how returned material is handled to prevent counterfeit product getting back into the supply chain. An approved vendor list with scope of approval is necessary and should be updated annually. Also, annual training for all employees is recommended.

Are accurate records maintained? As part of the counterfeit assessment, order traceability is usually requested. AMS companies select a random shipment and request the documentation required to trace the parts to the manufacturer. They need this objective evidence to ensure parts were purchased from an authorised supplier that matches their original purchase order.

SAE International Standards for Counterfeit Electronic Parts, Avoidance, Detection, Mitigation and Disposition: AS5553 and AS6496 (Authorised/Franchised Distribution) may be used to perform the audit. Both specifications are excellent resources to help develop a counterfeit program and/or an internal audit checklist for your counterfeit program.

How are requirements flowed down to the OEM? Flow down verification is another key area that AMS companies audit. Purchase orders are audited, and flow down objective evidence is required to ensure their requirements are flowed down to the OEM. The easiest way to comply with standard flow downs is to add quality terms and conditions and display them on your company website.

Cybersecurity is an AMS priority. Both OEMs and distributors/authorised suppliers are mandated by the DOD to comply with CMMC requirements. Since the CMMC specification is still being developed, only questionnaires and surveys are sent at this time. Implementing the NIST 800-171 standard and maintaining good support procedures, training and documentation is a necessity which can be used as objective evidence for a desk audit.

Distributor/authorised suppliers which pass such audits receive a high rating and are assured future business. This helps the AMS company buyer streamline and simplify the process of ordering and receiving products shipped directly from the distributor/authorised supplier’s warehouse. It provides confidence in the consistency of quality and guarantees that new requirements are being reviewed and flowed down to meet the AMS customer’s needs.